Sergio Ramos was the hero from the penalty spot again as Real Madrid won 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, a seventh consecutive victory that tightened their grip on the La Liga title.
Zinedine Zidane’s side temporarily moved seven points clear of second-placed Barcelona, who cut the gap back to four by winning 4-1 at Villarreal later on Sunday. After the game, Zidane hit back at suggestions his team have benefited from refereeing decision in recent games, saying his team “deserve more respect”.
Real Madrid’s winning penalty came in the 73rd minute for a foul on Marcelo by Dani García, awarded after the referee checked the VAR pitchside monitor. Ramos fired into the bottom corner for his fifth goal in seven matches, but Bilbao felt they should have had a penalty later in the game, when Ramos appeared to tread on Raúl García’s foot.
“It’s easy to talk about controversies but that’s not the case, we are doing phenomenally well. We deserve everything we are achieving,” Zidane said after the match. “I cannot accept hearing that we are top of the table because of referees’ decisions. We deserve more respect for what we are doing and I’m tired of people saying we are winning because of referees.”
Bilbao’s captain, Iker Muniain, had expressed anger after the Ramos incident was not reviewed by VAR. “We deserved a little more. We have seen in the last few weeks how things are and which teams get awarded these penalties,” he said. “The difference is that their play was reviewed and ours was not.”
Zidane paid tribute to his captain, who secured a 1-0 win from the penalty spot for the second time this week following the midweek win over Getafe. “Sergio is a specialist, he stays behind after training to practise penalties and his ability in taking them gives us a real boost,” the head coach said.
Ramos said: “I feel most comfortable during moments of the highest tension so I think I’m the ideal person to take on the responsibility at a moment like this. The only thing I was thinking about when taking the penalty was how important it was to get the three points.”
Even without fans at the San Mames ground, this was a gruelling assignment for the league leaders who were subjected to the Basque club’s high-pressing, aerial game. Raúl García forced Thibaut Courtois into a fine early save while Iñaki Williams also proved a handful for the Real defence.
The visitors did offer plenty of threat in the first half, with Rodrygo and Karim Benzema missing close-range headers before Dani Carvajal bungled the chance to play in Benzema for a certain goal. The breakthrough came when Marcelo advanced into the box and was clipped by Dani García, allowing Ramos to seal victory.